Q. I work in a hospital and would like to better understand the challenges LGBTQ+ people face in medical settings. I'd like to educate the team I work with.
It is important to be mindful of the fact that the LGBTQ+ community has historically faced a great deal of violence and discrimination. Although we have made massive strides toward greater equality, stigma and biases do still exist. A 2010 study by Lambda Legal revealed that 56% of LGBTQ+ respondents had experienced discrimination in healthcare, including being refused treatment and/or physical touch, as well as being blamed for their health status. For this reason, be mindful of the fact that an LGBTQ+ identified client may be feeling fear or anxiety during your encounters with them.
Healthcare providers may assume their acceptance of LGBTQ+ patients is a given, or that sexual orientation and gender identity is not relevant to the quality of their care. However, implementing simple changes such as visibly displaying a rainbow flag or utilizing more inclusive language at intake can go a long way in soothing underlying concerns and foster a greater sense of safety. Clearly indicating that your practice is an accepting environment signals to both LGBTQ+ patients and staff that it is okay for them to be “out” without fear of intolerance. This has been linked to improved health outcomes and overall wellness across the continuum of care. The National LGBT Cancer Network and the HRC’s annual Healthcare Equality Index both outline best practices and recognition criteria for LGBTQ+ affirming healthcare services.
Much of the potential harm or misunderstanding LGBTQ+ folks experience in medical settings is likely inadvertent and usually results from a lack of familiarity or fluency with LGBTQ+ culture. Your desire to educate yourself and your team is a vital first step in creating a more inclusive environment. The National LGBT Cancer Network offers excellent LGBTQ+ Cultural Competency trainings, which can make a huge and lasting impact in both the mental and physical health outcomes of your LGBTQ+ patients.